Timeless and multifaceted, the Ancient Greek civilization remains as the main sociopolitical prototype on which the modern Western tradition of democracy and public welfare was erected. In fact, it was in Ancient Greece, especially in Ancient Athens, where the art of public relations, a practice that aims to influence the public by exploiting various methods (Ultimate Business Dictionary, 2003), was first utilized to energize the dynamics of the political arena and create a governing system that was both sustainable and citizen-dependent.
The Ancient Athenian Greek democratic values, particularly around the time of Aristophanes (446 BC – ca. 386 BC), were apparent in the increasingly active role the citizens had in the judicial system in the Athenian society (Pomeroy, Burstein, Donlan & Tolbert Roberts, 1999). The citizens’ participation in public governance expectedly demanded a need for new ways to manage public relations. As Pomeroy, Burstein, Donlan, and Tolbert Roberts explain in their book Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History, in order for the democratic Ancient Athenian politicians to better serve the public and to employ the elite’s financial abilities for such an end, they created a series of public services called “liturgies;” these liturgies represented a way to invest in public relations (1999). These public relations strategies comprised: “maintaining a trireme and training its crew . . ., leading and financing a delegation to a religious festival in another Greek state, paying and training a team of runners for the intertribal torch races at festivals within Athens, [and/]or offering a banquette to all members of one’s tribe on the occasion of a religious festival” (Pomeroy, Burstein, Donlan & Tolbert Roberts, 1999). Especially intricate public relations affairs in Ancient Greece were of an oral nature. These were events that included sponsoring and coaching choirs that would sing at communal events to praise Athena and Dionysus (Pomeroy, Burstein, Donlan & Tolbert Roberts, 1999).
Rhetoric, the use of effective persuasive speech (Merriam Webster, 2011), was “one of the principal interests of [Ancient] Greeks,” as the “Greek society relied on oral expression” (Kennedy qtd. in Heath, 2012). Whenever persuasion was needed, rhetoric came into play in the Ancient Greek political landscape (Kennedy qtd. in Heath, 2012). As Robert L. Heath further asserts in his article “Western Classical Rhetorical Tradition and Modern Public Relations: Culture of Citizenship,” orality retained a special status in the Ancient Greek public tradition, because it was, indeed, the easiest form of communications in a society where praise-and-blame rhetoric was a characteristic aspect of governance (2012). Therefore, the main contribution of Ancient Greeks to public relations is evident in the fact that their “rhetorical culture . . . offers a template for us, as it is relevant to public relations’ role in society and the manner in which it is practiced” (Heath, 2012).
The Ancient Greek democratic system of governance, as demonstrated and cited earlier in this article, depended to a great extent on orality as a means of public relations, a means whereby public officials communicated with the citizens, gained their support, and maintained a balance of power between the elites and the rest of the social spectrum. In many ways, Ancient Greeks set the cornerstone for many of the practices that modern establishments today use to boost their image, such as sponsorship and public event organizing.
Heath, Robert. L. (2012). Western Classical Rhetorical Tradition and Modern Public Relations: Culture of Citizenship. In Krishnamurthy Sriramesh & Dejan Vercic (Eds.), Culture and Public Relations: Links and Implications (P. 28, 38). NY: Routledge.
Merriam Webster Dictionary. (2011). Rhetoric. http://www.merriam-webster.com
Pomeroy, Sarah B., Burstein, Stanley M., Donlan, Walter, & Tolbert Roberts, Jennifer. (1999). Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. (P. 218, 219). Oxford NY: Oxford UP.
The Ultimate Business Dictionary (2003). The Ultimate Business Dictionary: Defining the World of Work. (P. 246, 247). Cambridge MA: Perseus.